Nobody wanted this unforgettable season to end.
All you need to know about the Everett Silvertips, their commitment, and their passion:
On the plane ride up to Swift Current for Game 1 of the Rogers WHL Championship Series, the Silvertips boarded a charter aircraft containing a 105-seat, 21-row set up. There’s plenty of space to spread out.
By the middle of the flight, all players voluntarily congested toward the middle rows, playing cards and just enjoying the sheer element of brotherhood.
Then at the end of Game 6, while the Silvertips slowly decompressed out of the 22-game postseason, there were players sitting in the stalls refusing to take off their gear.
One instance: as long as 45 minutes.
Let that sink in, and understand how it’s completely symbolic of a team that willed its way out of a 4-9-1 hole before Halloween and soared to the U.S. Division title, Western Conference, two wins away from the Ed Chynoweth Cup, and were sill playing hockey into the middle of May.
These Silvertips, indeed, were something special. Their exploits will live forever in the memory banks.
Among the highlights:
- The Comeback in Kennewick:it was like 2004 in Kelowna, Game 7 in overtime, all over again. It was Jeff Schmidt back then. This time, it took six games for the Tips to reach the Western Conference title, but still answered the bell in overtime to author, to date, arguably the greatest win in Silvertips history. It was eventually Kevin Davis’ turn. Down 5-2 in the third period against the host Tri-City Americans, with time running thin, the Silvertips refused to wilt and sparked the legendary rally on a Connor Dewar goal at 9:52.
Then after Davis blasted a one-timer by Patrick Dea for a 5-4 deficit with 6:07 left, it was “go time.” On the very next shift, Garrett Pilon willed his way to the net and muscled the tying goal through Dea’s five hole to cap off a three-goal comeback in 4:37.
The Tips almost put it away in the last two minutes of regulation and nearly won it in the first two shifts of overtime. Then, on a power play, Davis uncorked a one timer from the high slot which shot the Tips to the Western Conference championship, and spilling off their bench into a playground of emotion along the Toyota Center ice surface. Cap it off with the return to downtown Everett at 3am, before a hoard of Tips fans fully decked out in team apparel in the middle of the night, and it’s a night we’ll never forget.
(Side note: stick tap, Tips voice alumnus Keith Gerhart. Now, I know exactly how it felt in ’04.)
- Smashing records all over the place: This was the obvious promise to results path of the Dennis Williams effect, and it didn’t take long to connect with the Silvertips. They had four 30-goal scorers and seven different 20-goal scorers for the first time in franchise history. They scored a franchise record 246 goals in the regular season. They were third with a shade less than four goals per game in the playoffs. Connor Dewar became the youngest Silvertip to hit 38 goals (which led the team this year) for a season, while he, Riley Sutter, and Wyatte Wylie reached NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for the upcoming draft. Williams, a career .673 win percentage as a coach in seven seasons before taking the Tips reins, set a new record for most wins by a first year Silvertips head coach (47) and was named Western Conference Coach of the Year. Mitch Love’s defensemen didn’t skip a beat: they helped the Silvertips lead the WHL in fewest goals allowed per game in for the third straight season, while ranking fifth or better in the last five consecutive seasons.
Patrick Bajkov became the Silvertips all-time leader in points, goals, and the first Silvertip to produce 100 points in a season.
Carter Hart, the first in Silvertips history to earn the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy (WHL Player of the Year), carried out Ron Hextall’s challenge to be “the best player at the major junior level regardless of position.”
- Growth and coming of age: There may not be a trio like Kevin Davis, Matt Fonteyne, and Bajkov for a long time. Enjoy the fact you got to watch them play hockey together at an unparalleled level of durability. They all finished their Silvertips and WHL careers combining for over 1,100 games, and are now top three, all-time (led by Davis) in Silvertips career games played.
Bajkov turned his storybook season into an open door for the future, signing a well-deserved three-year, entry level contract with the Florida Panthers.
Fonteyne turned his career best season into an open door for the future, and still retains a fork in the road. His American Hockey League contract with the San Jose Sharks affiliate, the Barracuda (who play in the same building at SAP Center), allows him to explore the opportunities at a high level. Since his contract is an AHL pact (instead of the NHL), Fonteyne is allowed to retain the right to attend school at the university level after next season and pursue a formal degree.
Garrett Pilon (Washington Capitals) and Ondrej Vala (Dallas Stars) came as advertised following the whopping trade shortly before the deadline with Kamloops. They’re eligible to turn pro next season, which would be their overage year. If this is it, they left an undeniable impression at how much their value impacted the Silvertips down the stretch.
PILON BEFORE TRADE: 44 points in 39 games, +5
PILON AFTER TRADE: 36 points in 30 games, +17
VALA BEFORE TRADE: 20 points in 31 games, +3
VALA AFTER TRADE: 8 points in 28 games, +14
Pretty much, Pilon produced at the same exact rate from his time as a top line forward with the Blazers, to one of many high impact players the Silvertips had at their disposal. He was also the leading Silvertips scorer in the playoffs with 28 points in 22 games. While Vala’s offensive numbers were reduced in the regular season, the bulky and rangy 6-foot-4 defenseman’s plus minus spiked by 11 after joining the Tips, and he had 11 points in just 22 playoff games, while ranking tied for third in WHL Playoffs plus-minus (+11).
As for Hart? This is a bonafide legacy. Should this be it for him, he exits as the Silvertips all-time leader in goaltending wins (116) and shutouts (26) – the latter tied the WHL all-time record. Not just as the first Silvertip to win the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy, he also became the first back-to-back-to-back winner of the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy (WHL Goaltender of the Year) in WHL history. This is a league that once had Carey Price, Braden Holtby, Chris Osgood, Devan Dubnyk, Martin Jones, Cam Ward, Mike Vernon, and Grant Fuhr pass through. Let that sink in.
- Success at the box office: Non-hockey (on ice) topic, but essential for the experience. The Tips had their biggest regular season draw at the gate in six seasons, and were third in WHL Playoffs attendance. Games against the Seattle Thunderbirds, stretch drive season opponents, special events (i.e. Pink The Rink) and critical or elimination playoff games (i.e. Game 5) either sold out or came close to sellouts at the 8,149-seat downtown Everett venue, which still shines like a diamond on the corner of Hewitt and Broadway.
There are people in this line of work, from other cities, who routinely visit and still remark, “it’s as good, if not better than some buildings in the American Hockey League.”
But far and away, those who fill the seats make are critical to keep that atmosphere alive. And they packed it out.
The one thing I learned as I took this job three years ago, 2004 is forever, and to this day the cast of characters from that team remain living legends around here.
Now, the legends talk have two of a kind. For a 2004, there’s a 2018. For a Jeff Schmidt, there’s a Kevin Davis. For a Kelowna, there’s a Tri-City.
For one great memory logged in history, we gained a new great memory to file away.
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton has served three seasons as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game. Tweet at him here.